Most are happy to discuss subject with eye docs, says researcher.
By Serena Gordon, HealthDay Reporter
(HealthDay News) -- Although you might expect the eye doctor's
office to be the last place you would have a discussion about
spirituality, recent research suggests that most people would
appreciate such a conversation.
Almost half of those included in the study attended weekly
religious services, and 82 percent felt that prayer was very
important to their sense of well-being, according to the study,
which was published in the September issue of the Archives of
"Patients were interested in having their physicians ask them
about their religion and spirituality. They seemed to crave a
personal relationship," said study author Gina Magyar-Russell, an
instructor and clinical psychologist in the department of
psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins School of
Medicine in Baltimore.
However, Magyar-Russell said there are two caveats to the study
-- one is that it may hold true only for Christians, and the
other is that it may hold true only for those with serious eye
disease, because the people included in this study were
predominantly Christian and most were losing or had poor vision
in one or both eyes.
"Spirituality can affect the physical and emotional health of
patients in quite significant ways," said Dr. Harold G. Koenig, a
professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke
University Medical Center.
"If they don't know about their patients' spirituality, then
they're practicing medicine without all of the information they
need, because [spirituality] can influence the patient's
prognosis and compliance," explained Koenig, who is also
co-director of Duke's Center for Spirituality, Theology and
The study included 124 consecutive eye clinic patients who
completed a questionnaire that included questions about their
spirituality. Sixty percent were being seen for vision problems
related to diabetes, 15 percent for vein blockages, and the rest
were being seen for other eye problems, such as macular
Sixty percent were moderately or very worried about their eye
problem, and one-third had poor vision in at least one eye.
Seventy-seven percent identified themselves as Christian, while 6
percent were Jewish. Three percent said they were agnostic.
Forty-five percent attended weekly religious services, according
to the study.
Few -- just 2.4 percent -- believed that God caused their
illness. Almost 70 percent felt that God gave them strength to
help them be "at peace" with their declining vision.
So, when doctors are actually trained to ask questions about
spirituality, what can they do with this information?
Magyar-Russell said that if their patients are using religion in
a positive way, such as turning to God for support, then doctors
can just listen and be supportive. But, if they hear that their
patients feel that God is punishing them somehow or they feel
abandoned by God, then the physician could refer them to a
hospital chaplain or ask them if they have a pastor or priest
that they could talk to about these feelings.
"When people are having religious struggles, they die more
quickly and are in worse physical health," said Koenig. "When
people use religion to help them cope in a positive way, it
reduces stress and can affect health in a positive way.
Both Koenig and Magyar-Russell said more physicians need to be
trained in giving a proper spiritual evaluation.
"Less than 10 percent of doctors do this in a regular way, even
with dying patients, and that's because most haven't been
trained," Koenig said.
SOURCES: Gina Magyar-Russell, Ph.D., instructor and clinical
psychologist, department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences,
Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore; Harold G. Koenig,
M.D., professor, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, associate
professor, medicine, Duke University Medical Center, and
co-director, Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at
Duke, Durham, N.C.; September 2008, Archives of
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